If she's scratching up a storm, it might be time to go to the vet.

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cat with miliary dermatitis licking her paw
Credit: RaspberryStudio / Adobe Stock

While this topic isn't much fun, it is important for every cat parent to know about. If your resident feline is scratching or licking excessively and she has a crusty red rash, she may have miliary dermatitis. It's a lot like hot spots on dogs, if you're familiar with that condition. But don't worry, it's treatable.

Miliary dermatitis, also called scabby cat disease, is an allergic skin reaction caused by a variety of allergens. The inflammation comes from a systemic reaction to one or more allergens that your cat is both exposed and sensitive to. A rash can appear, which your kitty may lick, bite or scratch; and that can turn into painful lesions with scabs on them.

What Causes Feline Miliary Dermatitis?

"The most common cause of miliary dermatitis in cats is a flea allergy. It can also be caused by environmental allergies (pollens, house dust mites or storage mites, molds, other pets), seasonal allergies (pollens), food allergies, skin parasites (mites), and autoimmune diseases," says Christine Sellers, DVM, and veterinary advisor for Cat Person.

Signs of Miliary Dermatitis in Cats

If you see these symptoms, your feline friend may have miliary dermatitis or possibly another skin condition, so it's best to consult your vet:

  • Red, crusty rash or pimple-like wounds (usually around the neck, head, back, flanks, and belly)
  • Continuous scratching
  • Lesions and scabs because of scratching
  • Excessive licking
  • Thinning of the cat's coat in certain areas

Is Miliary Dermatitis in Cats Contagious?

Typically, feline miliary dermatitis is not contagious to humans, other cats, or other pets─if your cat simply has an intolerance to the allergen. But, if the underlying allergy is from a fungus, parasite, or bacteria, that culprit can be passed on. That's why an in-person visit to your vet is always recommended if you notice your cat is in discomfort.

Feline Miliary Dermatitis Treatment Options

The best treatment is based upon what the cat is allergic to. Sellers shared these recommendations based on the cause of your cat's allergic reaction:

Fleas

To control fleas, use an effective monthly flea preventative recommended by your vet. Revolution topical solution is one that also kills mites, so if the cat has a house dust mite or storage mite allergy, this product will also treat that.

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Food Allergies

Food allergies generally cause inflammation and excessive grooming of the lower abdomen and inguinal area, face, eye area, and neck. Food allergy testing can be done by your veterinarian and the offending protein sources can be eliminated from the diet, or an elimination diet trial can be done over a series of weeks or months. Your vet may also recommend a hypoallergenic diet or hydrolyzed protein diet based on your individual cat's needs, but always consult your vet before changing your cat's diet on your own.

Pollen

Inhalant and pollen allergies can cause inflammation of the inner thighs, the abdomen, chest, inner forelegs, neck, and lips. Your vet may prescribe a steroid medication to treat this type of allergen.

Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune causes show inflammation at the nail beds, nipples, around the eyes, and ear edges. Steroids are also often used to treat this type of ailment.

Parasites

If parasites, mites, or fungus are to blame, your cat's miliary dermatitis can be treated with the appropriate medication prescribed by your vet.

What's the Prognosis for Cats with Miliary Dermatitis?

Most often, once it's determined what the cat is allergic to and the allergen is removed, the skin condition can be managed. For some kitties, the miliary dermatitis can recur. Often, it takes a combination of therapies to combat the different allergens and bring relief to your pet.

3 Common Myths for Cat Parents to Consider

Sellers says she often sees cat parents mistakenly believe these common myths, but luckily, they're pretty easy to reconsider and give your cat the best care possible.

1. "My cat is indoors so she can't have pollen allergies."

Actually, environmental allergies, including pollens, are worse indoors because of the concentration of the allergens in a closed environment. They often come in through windows, doors, and on our shoes and clothing.

Try setting up an air purifier in your home to filter out allergens, along with pesky pet dander to keep the humans in your home breathing easier, too.

2. "My cat can't have fleas because he is indoors."

Nope, fleas can be carried into the home or apartment on a human's clothing or by another pet that goes outdoors (even if the other pet is on flea preventative).

3. "My cat must not have allergies because he isn't sneezing."

Not so. Just like in humans, sneezing isn't the only allergic response symptom for cats. They could just have a rash or itchy skin.

Bottom line with feline miliary dermatitis and any other pet health problem—always consult your vet to help bring relief to your kitty.